Tag Archives: happiness

Is Happiness a Place?

photo 1I’ve watched three episodes of Bourdain’s Parts Unknown since last night and now my thoughts are consumed by food and culture.

It surprises me how much I’ve been thinking about food, culture, and the next phase of my life — in which I sell most everything I own and take up the wanderer’s lifestyle for hopefully the next five years.

I had to write a foreword for my cookbook last week and it made me more contemplative than I expected. What did I value in life? Why? What did I want more of? And I found myself echoing in the words I was writing. I too was lost “in the whizz-whizz/whoosh-whoosh pace of city life” I’d been writing about. I work too much, live too little. But I have a goal in mind: Five years abroad, and a year to go before I want it underway. The clock is ticking. The end is in sight. The race is on. Yada, yada.

Watching Bourdain wax poetic about the timeless lifestyles of Granada, Spain, or Ecuador, or Peru, or Croatia, or… It all makes me realize how far off the mark life is here in North America, or where I’ve been living. Or how I’ve been living. Life here, though, is all about the Benjamins. Or would be, if we had American currency.

With one of the most costly lifestyles in the English-speaking world, Vancouver (and therefore Victoria, where it’s only marginally cheaper) has suddenly become a struggle to live on a budget. A lot of people I know, if they can work from home and aren’t tied down, are taking the risk of living abroad. Some have made permanent ventures of it. And why not? If one can tap into a different lifestyle in a place that, after so long hamstrung in Vancouver, where life feels like a vacation because everything feels new and shiny for a year or more — well, why not? And if it’s 30-60% cheaper? Fuck, yeah.

I understand that we have it pretty good in Canada, and that’s where our money goes, but I also think it’s pretty ethnocentric to make bold claims like “best place on Earth.” After all, there’s a lifestyle in places like Spain and Ecuador and other fantastic places where they do have long vacations every year, and they focus on life first/work last, and they celebrate real food and wine and nature, and they do it all for cheaper than we do here, while still having a nice social safety net for the citizens.

We don’t have a monopoly on lifestyles. In many places, living really is pretty good, and they’re honestly too busy living life to bother trying to sell an image of it. Here, it feels like it’s so fast-paced and distracted that we’re constantly being reminded of just how GREAT everything is and how WOW SPIFFY our world is so we don’t start questioning how ridiculous it is that we have among the least amount of vacation time in the world, with the longest hours.

It’s like that time a friend read The Secret and told me what a powerful thing it was, and I should read it, blah blah blah. And I said, “Dude. You’re not happy with your job, where you live, and your relationship is in tatters. Prove to me that The Secret works by fixing your fucked-up life and oozing happy-happy/joy-joy, and then maybe I’ll buy the book.”

If life here was so sensational and happiness was the natural byproduct of it, do you think we’d be selling Xanax and Prozac like it was going out of style? Do you think self-help books would be so endemic? If life’s so amazing here, why do we need to keep being reminded about it?

When I was living in Vancouver, I kept telling people I wasn’t happy there anymore. Everyone said I was nuts, it’s the best place on the planet. Well, I can tell you wholeheartedly that selling the dream ain’t the same as delivering the dream, and for me, Lotusland just wasn’t delivering.

photo 2But maybe I’ve just got a restless heart. This time and place, it’s not right for me. I don’t know where is, but it ain’t here, not now. Not today. I think, for me, the joy will come from looking. From going to one place and being blown away and thinking “Nothing can ever top this,” and then, boom, next town, next country — “Nothing can ever top this.”

What if there is no place better than where I am today? What if, for the rest of my life I remember about the magical two years I lived in a magical neighbourhood?

Well, that could happen. Sure. But it’s a pretty big planet packed with a lot of wow, and I’m pretty sure things get amazing anywhere there’s mountains, trees, ocean, good wine, beautiful food, and kind people.

Happiness, for me, is a state of being. Having the time to be in the moment, not distracted, not paying a ton of money for an experience. A quiet place, a few kind people, the ability to speak my mind (or stay silent), a great glass of wine or a tall lemonade or strong coffee, some nature near me or surrounding me. Usually many of these criteria get met when I get to feel “happy”. It’s the recipe for happiness we hear so much about. Or my recipe, anyhow.

But to get there, to have that, I need to spend another year working like a dog to set my plan in play. Taking moments like this to think about the what-ifs of living abroad, the potential that life might hold, it makes knowing I’m working through another Saturday and Sunday all worthwhile.

That balance will come. For a little while, it means I have to prove how much I want it. And so I shall. With that, it’s time to do some work.

Happy? Stopping in the Small of it All

What do we really need for contentment? At what point do our goals cloud “life” itself?

How much work is too much work? How much of something is too much anything? How little is too little?

There’s no universal answer. The less one can live with, though, the more likely one’s chances of finding contentment.

I remember a friend once commenting that the wealthy are more scared of not having money than the poor are of never getting it.

I don’t know, I guess it’s true. I know some moneyed folks who don’t understand the class divide, and when they peer over that pay-precipice, whoo-ee — us little peoples with our cheap-ass wine, “good” and not-so-much-so underwear, “I Need a Paycheck” stack of recipes, and tendency to have to ask “how much” ‘cos we know there’s a price we can’t touch and it’s low… well, we’re a different breed.

Some of us are angry about it, and some of us know how good we really have it.

For all I don’t got, what I got’s pretty awesome — ‘cos it comes with a worldview that helps me enjoy it and not want for more (most of the time, for now). Sure, I stay out of stores and pretend we’re not a materialistic society in order to pull that worldview off when my finances dictate it, but whatever.

I got what I got, and I like a lot of it, and what I don’t got, I tend to get by without.

Soon I’ll be chasing the self-employment dragon with school, etc, and I imagine my desires will be increasing and my quiet, simple life will be shaken up as my needs grow and the corresponding scene develops.

There are some things I hope never change, though.

  • Like knowing a six-pack of beer and a burger-to-go eaten at the beach with a summer sunset, great friend(s), and million-dollar view rivals any experience had in a many-walled 4-star restaurant with entitled waiting staff and hoity-toity diners.
  • Or the delight of ugly boxer shorts, a torn concert t-shirt, and a DVD marathon with blinds drawn on an unapologetically rainy Sunday.
  • Or the here-and-now never-seen-THAT joy that is a road trip instead of flying somewhere, including the neuroses of choosing the music and a route before the trip ever happens.
  • Or knowing moments are built for milking and it doesn’t take long to do so, whether it means stopping to see the stars at night, taking the long way past a sunset, watching life unfold, or smelling a flower.
  • Or loving hanging out with friends who enjoy casual and chill as much as or more than being a part of any scene.

Sure, the media and the fancy folk sell the image of swank-and-busy lives, and how much we should validate our lives by the foods/drinks/things we can afford when with others, and maybe that’s great for you, but, for me, life’s about the simple-and-small moments that fill it all.

Someone once told me it wasn’t the big stars he loved in the sky, but all the little ones in between them.

And I think I look at life like that.

It’s the small things — the moments you pause for, gazes you steal, words you exchange, accidental encounters en route to Your Real Plans, unexpected little incidents that pepper your days.

That’s life, that’s the real deal. It’s the snippets, the moments, that stand out.

There’s a whole breed of world and people that live for the weekend, or the big party, or the next swank thang.

Sometimes I’m guilty of that too, but then I try to remember the moment, the smallness in the bigness. What’s something here, now, that I can notice or experience or remember? A taste, a smell, a sight, a sound — anything.

I want that, for forever — remembering the smallness in the bigness.

I hope my life is never always Big. I hope I always have Moments. I hope there’s forever equal parts of the Small and the Strange while it’s filling up with Big and Beautiful.

These are things I hope on this simple, nothing, every-day-is-like-today kind of Thursday… but a simple, nothing, every-day-is-like-today kind of Thursday on which there’s an amazing marine breeze as sun breaks behind cloudy heat reprieve and my bluesy-funk tunes swell and pound in my living room and my toes are painted pink, and the coffee’s brewing, and the floors are clean and…

Well, for what it is? It’s an amazing day. And I hope I always, always remember that.

From There to Here

In 2007, I spent 7 months working for a toxic employer.

By the time I left my job, I was close to the highest I’ve ever weighed, at my most negative and always whining, feeling sorry for myself, and feeling pretty hopeless about everything, especially about writing, which I’d been sucking at for nearly a year at that point.

I quit that job, even though I was always taught leaving a job in less than a year was a crime I’d be judged heavily for. I realized  one day in August that, if I didn’t leave, it’d be the end of any Steff I ever knew; I was approaching the negativity point of no return. Continue reading

Good Times Ahead? Let’s Hope.

I normally write mornings, but I feel really good right now. In every sense. I want to remember it now, rather than chance it ebbs away during the night.

It’s times like these I remember why I never wanted to go to bed as a child: I was very, very scared life would go on without me. Sadly, growing up I only learned that’s exactly what it does. But I’ve learned to like that. It’s something to wake up to, isn’t it? The constant movement and shift of our little microcosms.

All is not sunshine and roses just yet, boys and girls. I still need to get a loan this week in order to make important changes in my life, but if I don’t, then at least a fairy godmother — or at least my aunt and uncle — did save me heroically with a much-needed immediate infusion. They’re awesome to the nth. They sent me a surprisingly large cheque today (four times what I asked for, double what they said they’d send), so I can pay the rent-eating monsters from the east (“landlord” type things) and maybe even get important cycling and scootering gear. I need that stuff now. Our good weather died today and fall’s forecasted to arrive with a vengeful fury sometime afore noon tomorrow.

Summer, how sweet you were. You shall be missed. But thanks for overstaying your welcome. Make a note: Come back any time.

And, my back! It’s loosening up! With the damp weather coming in, I’m coughing but it doesn’t hurt. (Astounding. You have no idea. I nearly jumped with glee when putting my jeans on didn’t make me cry out this morning. ) I’m even becoming, dare I say it? Flexible? I’m not normally the ankles-behind-the-ears type but, you know, I do yoga. I even sprang up some steps today before I stopped myself with a “Whoa, slow down, skippy!” admonishing. Walk before you run, Grasshopper.

Now, I do have this little kink in my right hip. But, hey, it’s only fitting; we already knew I had a little kink in me. It’ll settle down.

I can work again. This is good. I can produce. I like producing. Hell, I can even get crazy and live a little. Maybe even date some boys.

But most of all, I have that “I came, I saw, I kicked its ass” feeling about everything. I feel really, really good for the first time in a while. Life has tried to beat me down, and while I had some bad moments, I kept the faith over all. And look how it’s turning out.

Did I mention I’ve lost weight during all this? Shit, man. I’m wearing the Joe Boxer pajamas I bought a few years ago, and the pants that I couldn’t even pull over my thighs are eight inches loose on me. (They were about six at their best.) I haven’t weighed myself, I promised myself I’d wait until one week after my back healed. Even if I’ve lost weight, wouldn’t it be cool to get on the scale in a week or two and see an even larger number than I expect? Wicked.

I knew this would pass, but, you know, when you’re expecting to be holed up for 3 days and it turns into 31, well. It gets a little trying.

But I came. I saw. I kicked its ass. Simply put, I win. This is good. Let’s hope this continues a little longer.

After all, I know I don’t deserve it. No, I’ve earned it. And I want it now. Thanks. Got a side of fries for that?

Thoughts: On Stairwells and Other Obstacles

The cable has been down now for some 14 hours. Both internet and television. They’re constructing a new transit line, a light-rapid rail line, over the water, and the workers in this area executed brilliant competence last night as they swung their heavy machinery and managed to sever the cable lines that feed probably 300,000 of us with pictures and words from the outside world. Whatever shall we do, home without distraction? Whatever can we put our lazy little minds to?

You, you get me with a many-hour delay. Fed to you through disrupted service, put on hold, stuffed away in some insignificant computer file until such a time comes as I can unleash my glaring insignificance upon you.

I’m thinking about stairways today. Steps that ascend, descend, or are even completely meaningless, leading to doors that stay locked and never, ever open.

There’s a poem by some dead poet – Langston Hughes, he of the jazz-rhythm behind words – about life being no crystal stair. There’s no clarity of where our adversities come from, no ability to see ahead of us miles on end. No, our stairs are warn and warped, wobbly and overworked. They creak and groan, there’s soft spots in the center, and hard metal-cased edges to save the joints. They’re dark and cramped and have no visibility beyond the next 12 or 14 steps. Stairs, I surmise, are a bitch, but they take us where we need to go.

I remember high school. Sometimes with a smile, but mostly with a groan. This is year fifteen since I graduated, and I’m sure there’s a reunion, but I’ve heard nothing. Would I go? I very well might. But not being afforded an invitation, I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

High school was a mix of craziness and dying to fit in. Most of my friends were outside of school, since I was raised in a white-bre(a)d town filled of wealth and pretension. The native reservation in town might’ve been a world away, because we sure as fuck never saw them. There were two high schools: One on the east side, where the poor and fucked-up would attend, the other on the west. Naturally, the west reeked of money and patronage. There were the whores (oh, were there) and the jocks and the geeks and the brainiacs. I was a geek with social promise. I had friends, I was a mystery, but I didn’t opt to hang out with my peers, other than a few of the cooler outsiders.

In the midst of it all, I had my stairs. I’d choose to slip away and find a stairway that didn’t have a lot of traffic, and I’d read to get my head out of the world that I knew was reality. Sometimes Paul Theroux, sometimes my biographies of dead great artists, sometimes Vonnegut. Whatever, but it was my time, my world, my secrecy. For those few stolen minutes, the world around me would cease to be.

And then a bell would ring. I’d be sucked back into that mind-numbingly uninspired life with an unchallenging curriculum and bored-shitless teachers. I’d be forced back into monotony, where I’d be compelled to stuff my individualism back inside me, rendered just another pawn on the board of life.

It’s fifteen years later, and I can’t say that much has changed.

I have my own little world, this fancy little apartment of mine, all decorated like an eccentric professor unafraid of colour, and here I hide from the world at large. Me, my books, my media, my cooking, my comforts. Me.

And then, time changes. The hands pass 12, appointments loom on the horizon, the world makes its demands, the internet surfs me through to my bank account, and I realize I’m not alone, I have obligations, and for whatever it’s worth, I have a role to play. One that is no choice of mine. No matter who or what I wish to be, somewhere inside of me sits a cog that fits ever so perfectly into the droning gears of the machine of life. I wish I didn’t fit, I wish I didn’t have to, but I do, and it’s my lot in life.

Just like it’s yours.

We forget those little desires and dreams of greatness that we all nurse deep within us. Who’s kidding who? Each of us at one point wished to be a ballerina, an astronaut, a rock star, a famous writer, an actor; each of us dreamed of greatness, of a life of envy and regard. Yet here we are, doing what it takes to pay the bills, because someone somewhere pointed out just how fucking tired we must be, struggling to climb those stairs. We forget our dreams because to remember them is to be conscious of how much it is that we want but do not have, that we may never have. We become accustomed to the simplicity of life: eat, sleep, work, play, pay.

We acquiesce.

So precious few of us ever achieve what we really desire. We learn to settle, to stop wishing for more. We learn to make peace with all that we’ve come to acquire, regardless of how short we’ve fallen from the heights we once dreamed we’d reach.

I’m at a point in my life where I need to struggle daily to ensure my bills get paid. Sometimes I begin living on the depths of my freezer, embracing the canned goods that fill my cupboards in wealthier times. Sometimes I crack open my jar of change in the hopes that the $18.49 in loose change is going to get me through for three more days. And that’s the way my life is, because that’s the price I pay for this: The chance to live my dream, if even just the tiniest bit, of being a writer for a living. Through it all, I mostly struggle to keep my pride and my integrity, if not my unending fear of what might never be.

Ultimately, the time will come when this isn’t getting me through anymore. That time’s nigh, my friends, and it saddens me. Soon, I’ll have to give up this dream and return to the mundane existence of the 9-5 world. Soon, I’ll have to work under another’s directive, because, soon, I just won’t have the steam remaining to live with this kind of uncertainty. And this is why dreams break and fall away from us, because the demands of life, from a system that truly serves few besides the wealthiest, are far too overpowering to avoid.

And what does it really do to us, these realizations of loss and failure and reality that come in dark places, like deserted staircases and empty halls? The realizations of just how much we’ve given up for that greatly sought-after myth of security?

Well, fucked if I know. I’ve never had the privilege of being on the other side of that myth of security, and maybe it’s my fault. Maybe I should’ve given up long ago, let myself be sucked into the beliefs of laying down a retirement package, buying the house, getting married, and becoming stable. Maybe that’s what it’s all about. Maybe I’m just a romantic, content now to live on dreams and love and all that comes with. Maybe I missed the memo, that life is for living and dreams are for dreaming. But as hard as all this is, the mental struggle to keep the faith against the odds, to realize that the negative balance in my bank account shouldn’t reflect my actual worth… I can’t help but to believe I’d make the same choice all over again.

I just hope it’s all worth it.

Our Tale of Many Coincidences

Since The Guy gave me his consent to share this tale with ya, here goes.

Have you ever seen When Harry Met Sally? Remember the cute vignettes that pepper the film? Old couples talking about the coincidences that brought them together?

Well, The Guy and I have our own Tale of Many Coincidences, and it’s why both of us are probably running into this thing a little less guarded than we might otherwise be doing with someone else. And hey, it’s spring. If there’s any time of the year to govern yourself with a sense of abandon, this is that.

Four years ago, we were living across the pond from each other. He was on Vancouver Island, and I lived here on the Lower Mainland, in the big old city of Vancouver. Between us was a two-hour, expensive ferry ride and about two hours’ of driving time.

We encountered each other on Lavalife. I spotted him, thought “Hey, he’s cute, seems like my type” and “smiled,” or something, and emails ensued. I remember being bitter that I had failed to notice he was on the Island, and if I had, I probably never would have contacted him, since long-distance relationships are not something I believe in. I always deliberately avoided the Island guys, so it was very likely a mistake in the first place. (But a happy mistake, as it turns out.)

Well, despite the geographical differences, we volleyed back and forth, about three emails each, but then he stopped the volley. Maybe he just forgot to get back to me, who knows, but I thought it was A Clue, and simply didn’t contact him again.

As so often happens in that crazy world of e-dating, we simply fell away and never did get in touch again.

The emails were great (though odd in the serendipitous coincidental kind of way) and if we’d lived locally, there’s no doubt in our minds that we would have hooked up. We had a strange long, long list of commonalities that we shared, and it seemed a little too odd to ignore at the time, but darn the geography anyhow.

Fast forward four years, and it’s Tuesday, March 7th. The Kid has just told me the night before that the evening we shared “was no fun” because I was “too aggressive.” I wouldn’t say I’m always “that” aggressive, but I sure as shit know what I want. (The Guy will attest to this, since it amuses him. “You, here, come.”) I was pretty annoyed by the Kid’s stupid & naïve comment, which resulted in this rant, and it also resulted in me deciding to write a very, very clear personal ad for Craig’s List, with the heading, “Writer chick, 32, seeks muse and partner in crime.”

The Guy, in what was probably another Weak Moment At Work was bored and just surfing Craig’s List for kicks. He had described himself as “single and not looking,” but when he saw my heading, couldn’t resist at least taking a boo. He read the ad, and as I usually tend to be amusing on my rants days, he had a chuckle, thought, “This chick is kooky,” and decided to check out my blog – which I had listed in the ad.

It didn’t take long, apparently, for him to notice my handle, which has always been the same on Lavalife – Scribe Called Steff. He did the math, recognized the writing style, and decided to take the plunge.

It turns out he’s been living in the city for a year now, and in the four years that have passed, we’ve begun to share even more in common. We’ve held the same jobs, love the same things, have the same beliefs, enjoy the same culture, we’re both foodies, we’ve both come through a lot of hardships with greater understandings of who we are, both our mothers are kaput, we’re both in the same place in our lives right now, yada, yada, yada. It’s enough sap to make syrup with, honestly. But I’m not complaining.

Well, I was thrilled to hear from him, since I don’t believe in “coincidences.” When these strange happenings come down, I investigate. So, naturally, I told him right off that I was interested in meeting him before I would meet anyone else. (Be blunt, it pays.)

Our first date wasn’t much to speak of, since I was pretty sick at the time and we only met for lunch, a bit of a walk, and he took me home, where I rapidly deflated into Land of Sickie-Plus-Nth. The next date entailed him making me dinner, and my selecting Fight Club as the date-flick du jour, which had him grinning madly. We had the first kiss’n’grope session, which led to some pretty wicked fooling around, but we decided it was worth not putting sex on the menu just yet.

The next date was this past Wednesday, with my preparing us breakfast for dinner (hey, don’t knock it – easy and tasty, and anything with bacon rocks) and yet another inappropriate date flick, the pimping classic, Night Shift. Again, we made like a couple of teenagers in heat, leading us to make a little mental list of all the things you can do for fun while keeping your clothes on.

So, yeah, we haven’t had the big Fireworks session just yet, but the Sparks are A-Plenty and Good Fun has been had by all. It’s one of those things that has too much promise to screw it up by sleeping together on dates one, two, or three. Besides, I’ve been sick and it sort of kills my libido a little. We’re both on the same page, though, and I can’t stay sick forever. Still, it’s a great thing so far.

The coincidences, though, and the commonalities we share makes this thing feel really, really comfortable, really, really early in the game. It’s a little odd and surreal, but really fun and worthwhile. We’re both really well-adjusted, and both of us being writers, the communication’s stronger than I’ve had it be at any time in the past long, long time.

It’s nice, it feels good, and hey, it’s spring. The timing’s awesome.

I think it goes without saying, though, that when life rises up and places a bunch of coincidences at your feet, that you’d be a fool not to further investigate matters. I’m glad I have. I’m curious where it leads, but I’m quite enjoying the trip thus far.